With the Mawlid al-Nabawi occurring this year on Friday, December 1 – corresponding to Rabi’ al-Awwal 12 on the Islamic calendar – Muslims have been celebrating the birth of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) all week.
The main activities were held Thursday night (marking the beginning of Friday in Islam) and Friday. One of the largest celebrations took place Thursday night at Salih al-Jafari Mosque in Cairo.
The mosque’s namesake, Sheikh Salih al-Jafari, was a famous 20th century imam of al-Azhar known for his piety and extensive knowledge, as well as being a descendant of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Thursday’s celebration was presided over by his grandson and current head of the Jafari “tariqa” (Sufi order), Sheikh Mohamed Salih Abd al-Ghani Salih al-Jafari.
Hundreds of Muslims gathered at the mosque after the night prayers to celebrate the Mawlid, coming from Upper Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere. Young and old, rich and poor, scholars and laymen all came together to express their love for God’s final messenger and remember his “seerah”, or biography.
Abdul Latif Shamsudoha, a 33-year-old visiting from London, has been celebrating the Mawlid since he was a child. He told us that the Mawlid “is a means of studying and revisiting the prophetic biography and bringing people together in love for Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).”
But it is not just love for the Prophet that is shown, but love for each other as well. Saleh Hesham Mashaal, a 20-year-old Egyptian student from Helwan, said he celebrates the Mawlid “because we do not have someone more precious than our Prophet (peace be upon him),” before adding that “this celebration is unique, as you find all people love each other – a true love.”
The night began with the congregational night prayers. Afterwards, everyone sat down in lines facing the center of the mosque, where incense was lit, filling the air with its sweet fragrance. Quranic verses about the Prophet were recited, and shortly after, a poem written by Sheikh Salih al-Jafari describing the Prophet’s physical appearance was sung.
Following this poem, a high-ranking Muslim scholar from Libya gave a speech about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), explaining that the Mawlid is celebrated to praise the one whom God has praised and to seek a connection to the life of the Prophet.
More poems written by Sheikh Salih al-Jafari were then sung. The poems were filled with praise of the Prophet, as well as supplications to God to bless the Prophet and facilitate the following of his path for those gathered. A poetic seerah written by al-Jafari, titled “The Luminous Moons”, was also recited, “which details the Prophet’s noble description, lineage, qualities and character,” according to Shamsudoha.
The night continued in this fashion, with scholars speaking about the qualities and virtues of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), followed by poetry being sung by all. But the celebration would not be complete without food being shared.
About half-way through the night, groups of attendees descended to the cafeteria beneath the mosque, where “fettah” – an Egyptian dish consisting of pita bread, rice, broth, sauce and meat – was served. Eight people would sit together at one table, with a large of bowl of fettah placed in the middle, complete with a big piece of meat for each person. Everyone would take the meat in front of them, and then they all ate from the same bowl, with volunteers coming around to fill up the bowl with more if needed.
While each group took turns to go eat, the singing and speeches continued in the mosque above. As people returned from eating and sat down again, more volunteers began to serve tea and sweet biscuits.
After everyone was sitting in the mosque again, Sheikh Mohamed Salih al-Jafari called upon all to follow in the path of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He then announced that a new book by Magdy Ashour, advisor to Egypt’s Grand Mufti, would be distributed as a gift.
Regarding the feeling of attending such a celebration, Saleh Hesham Mashaal told us, “Celebrating the Mawlid is a very spiritual and inspiring event. You keep on mentioning Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) all the time. Therefore, it is filled with blessings and welfare.”